Highlights: Naples

Naples is a city of contrasts like most of big cities. But there is something particular that makes it a dramatic figure, almost the perfect personification of Sodom and Gomorre, a city where filth is so near your body that your foot can’t help but rub an empty plastic bottle – if you are lucky. As always, first appearances are deceptive, there is more – oh so much more – to Naples than its chaotic streets. Ancient history, landscapes and food are among the key strengths of this city and have always been, however its contemporary art spaces are increasingly attracting “art tourists” like myself. Between ancient ruins and pizza degustations I managed to visit some contemporary art spaces worth your time, here’s my  short list.

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Mimmo Paladino, Senza titolo (cavallo), 2006. Collection Madre, Napoli. Courtesy Fondazione Donnaregina per le arti contemporanee, Napoli. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

 

 

Casa Madre

This one was slightly difficult to find as it is hidden inside of a big building. You have to cross the lobby, go to your right and climb the stairs to the first floor where the gallery is, next to a hair salon. The exhibition shown at the gallery showcased the work of Ernesto Tatafiore, a Napolitan artist working with different mediums such as sculpture, drawings, paintings, among others. In this exhibition, Tatafiore pays homage to his hometown by depicting the Vesuvius and by harnessing the city’s urban design. Undeniably, one of the most iconic and enchanting views of the city is when we turn our heads up to see Neapolitan’s laundry drying under the sun. Tatafiore reproduces the street’s disposition but takes it to the gallery space where his compositions dangle from the ceiling; shirts and drawings mix together in the same space erasing the differences between the two realms. 

 

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If Tatariore teaches us something, is above all that he feels both Mediterranean as well as European. As he alludes to iconic artists such as Gustav Klimt – Danaë -, Egon Shiele, Yves Klein or other prominent figures of Western civilization, he reveals that cultural heritage goes beyond borders. The sea is an iconographic inspiration, ships, sailors and sea creatures inhabit his compositions evoking mythology tales and modern classics like Moby Dick. It is also considered as a shared territory, a common ground far more strong than citizenship with which different nations build part of their identity – Southern France, Greece, Southern Italy and some regions of Northern Africa share more history in common than with other parts of the countries they belong to.

 

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Museo Madre

Located in the heart of what is known as the art district, the Museo Madre opened in 2005. Ever since its grand debut it has achieved international acclaim and become a reference in the region for contemporary art enthusiasts. Divided into three different floors, the museum’s permanent collection displays works by artists like Anish Kapoor, Rebecca Horn, Richard Sera, Shirin Neshat, Urs Lüthi, and the list goes on an on. 

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The temporary exhibition Painting as a Butterfly focuses on the pictorial production of Pier Paolo Calzolari’s work, an Italian artist taking us on a journey through the different stages of his oeuvre. It all began in the 60’s, Calzolari like many of his peers became acquainted and instantly drawn to minimalism leading him to transform ordinary objects into works of art. But what catches one’s attention is his intuition with light. One of the most remarkable rooms showed painted yellow walls with a window dividing the room. The colour changes as daylight passes so we get to experience the different hues of  light throughout the day. 

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As the exhibition evolves we get to sense Calzolari’s progression towards abstraction and pictorial matter. Paintings such as Blue Monochrom or Untitled (1986) bear witness of the artist’s emancipation from form shedding light into a metaphysical quest searching to give shape to thoughts and inner feelings. Painting for Calzolari is a language of its own, colour conveys as much meaning as “normal” narratives but alludes to a world devoid of image as we know it. Surely inspired by painters like Pollock, Rothko, and by Clement Greenberg’s writings, Calzolari envisioned abstract painting as free of imitative representation as music. Nonetheless, not a puritan like Greenberg, abstraction can relate to the outer world. Calzolari added to the canvas three dimensional objects or referred to the world bridging his inner world and the outside. By doing so, the artist states that painting, sculpture and objects don’t necessarily need to be considered one by one, they can create a new whole escaping established definitions. 

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Galeria Alfonso Artiaco

Alfonso Artiaco gallery exhibits two female artists in their space: Victoria Civera from Spain and Mathelda Balatresti from Italy. The former, an outspoken feminist proceeds by contrast, instead of direct political criticism she goes for a smoother angle alluding to patriarchy and oppressive systems. The work exhibited at the gallery focuses on Civera’s investigation of colour and of the female condition. Lines in the canvas suggest precluded and sultry spaces, a metaphor perhaps of women’s stance in society. Her characters wander aimlessly in a chaotic – and yet geometric -vastness or are about to fall from a cliff, heightening not without irony clichés still abounding  on women. Despite this derision, her female characters appear as independent vital forces communicating with the rest of the composition; in turn, the spectator feels compelled to them for their reflective nature working as a mirror, thus creating a stronger connection with the viewer. 

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Mathelda Balatresi shares with Civera her interest in the female condition and believes art is a platform to challenge false presumptions on women. Pictorially speaking though, Balatresti’s artistic language leans on surrealist painters, on the legacy of artists like Leonora Carrington or Remedios Varo. Through the colour range she uses – pistachio green, light blue, pin and light purple – Balatresi’s work evokes children’s books and dreamlike narratives where candyfloss and marshmallows are the epitome of a good spent weekend with grandparents. 

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Mathelda Balatresi, Una sola che vola senza ali, May 2019, Galleria Alfonso Artiaco, Napoli, Courtesy Galleria Alfonso Artiaco, Napoli. Photo: Luciano Romano 

 

Both Balatresi and Civera dispute the macho culture via their work revealing a much more complex artistic Italian scene. 

 

 

 

 

 

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